Prague: Czech Hedonism



Prague Square

My arrival into Prague was without incident. I got off my Ryan air flight and into a small shuttle which took me directly to The Prague Square Hostel, a place which had been recommended to me by a friend. I’d been interested in seeing Prague for a long time. Its reputation for being a beautiful city with beautiful girls, cheap beer and a rich history all drew thumbs up from me when friends and acquaintances would ramble on about it. I was lucky I’d actually made the decision to come though. I’d been getting tired of all the lavish praise people kept heaping on Prague. I hate it when I hear about one particular place over and fucking over again before you’ve even been. It takes away that somewhat privileged sense of adventure when seemingly everyone you know has already been there. This is why Barcelona keeps going down my list of places to see (I think Uzbekistan just moved ahead of it). Maybe I’m just a mental case. Fortunately it didn’t ultimately affect my decision to see the City of Spires.

It was still Friday morning but I only had two full days to take in the city. So after signing in to my Hostel and dropping my bags, I left to go exploring immediately. The Prague Square is in a superb location, only a minute down from the Old Town Square which where I was heading. Upon entering, I was greeted by the spectacle of one of Prague’s most famous icons – The fascinating Orloj or Astronomical clock – a huge device which completely overpowers any interest you may have had for the historic town hall on which it is mounted.  State-of-the-art in 1410, the Orloj featured not just a clock with all sorts of time measurements and medieval astronomical indicators – but also the mechanical gimmick of Jesus’ apostles conveyoring past two large portals which open every hour on the hour (it’s a boring as shit show now, but was presumably mind blowing  600 years ago).  The Bohemian administrators were so delighted by this unique masterpiece of engineering and design that after paying Hanuš – the clockmaker –  his fee, also insisted on burning out his eyes so that he couldn’t build another one like it.  Additions to the clock were made right up until the 19th century, but the original structure is still all there. What’s truly entertaining though is watching the faces on the huge crowds of tourists gathered to watch the apostle’s appearance, go from anticipated excitement beforehand to chagrined disappointment afterwards. I admit I was among them. But then Avatar had just come out.

Moving through the square but not sure what to do next I spotted a large guided tour group which was just embarking from in front of the Town Hall. As the guide was English speaking I decided to jump in and quietly linger at the back, hoping nobody would notice my tagging along. I found out momentarily that the Sandemans tour was in fact free, and that the guides themselves got by on tips. Glad to have stumbled upon this resource I spent the next few hours enjoying many of the city sites that I otherwise would’ve probably missed. Highlights included the Historic Jewish Quarter (Hitler had it intentionally preserved to act as a sort of morbid open air museum of Jewish culture for when he’d wiped them all out), The Prague Estates Theatre where Mozart debuted his Don Giovanni, a lunch stop for bagels, beautiful views of the city, the historic Charles Bridge, and a nice Czech-American girl who started talking with me in between the lulls of our guides commentary. She had to leave before the tour ended but passed me along her number on the premise of meeting up again that night.

Old school dildos

It was only 4 or so, but the sun was almost setting on the horizon. The bane of travelling in the European winter is the short window of light you have in which to see the city by day. That and the fucking cold. With that particular aspect in mind, I decided to check out a curiosity I’d spotted when I’d left the hostel that morning – The Sex Machines Museum.  As you might expect, the place looked particularly provocative from the outside, but it didn’t disappoint on the inside either.  The multi storied building showcased contraptions from across the world and throughout history, divided into different areas of sexual perversion and repression. Entertaining were the 19th Century crank operated dildos, but the device which attached a ring to a boys penis, connected to an alarm which alerted the Jesus freak parents  should he get an erection, offered an insight into just how fucked up the Victorians really were. Other things included the complete history of porn, all manner of S&M gear, the A to Z of sexual piercings, plenty of bizarre miscellanea from history, and several flustered looking tourists who’d either underestimated or misunderstood the building into which they’d ventured.  I personally had been hoping to see something truly shocking or outrageous but didn’t see anything of such. Bizarre and somewhat amusing would be my best summation. But then few things stack up in shock factor after being exposed to such online abominations as ‘2 girls, 1 cup’, BME Pain Olympics and the Random section of

I’d only spent a little over an hour inside the museum but when I left it was dark and cold, and heading back to the hostel to get a recommendation for a good local restaurant sounded like a good idea.  There was a que of people at the front desk checking in so instead I went to check my email in the computer room. This turned out to be a good thing as a fantastic looking girl was in there doing the same thing. Smiling, I said hi as I walked in and she said returned in kind, then we simply kept talking and soon things were going great.  Rebecca was from South Carolina, but had only a soft accent, and was also in Italy studying something along the lines of Ancient Greek and Latin, on a larger holiday from her main studies back home – Medicine. Looks can certainly be deceiving. Suddenly aware that I hadn’t heard back from the Czech-Yankee girl from earlier, I decided to push this situation as far as possible. Apparently this new girl was also waiting for a call from a friend so I suggested that in the meantime we go downstairs to a nearby pub and get a beer. She agreed. The closest pub we chose to check out was pretty cool; underground, ancient looking and cosy. It was also adorned with every kind of mounted animal head – something which I jokingly pointed out, must make a southern gun freak feel more like home, which as it turned out – it did. With two huge glasses of Pilsner, we continued talking from earlier but when the sparks became too big to ignore, a tacky bar make-out became inevitable.  After a little bit she pulled back and whined that she still hadn’t gotten a call from her friend and that her phone was almost out of battery and without a charger. I’d long forgotten about my own call I’d been waiting for but when I saw her phone, it was quite incredibly the same bottom-of-the-line piece-of-shit that I used myself. Just use the charger in my room then. Ok, let’s go after this drink. Upon entering my room back at the hostel I was relieved to see that I was still the only person in there. Sometimes opportunity just keeps throwing itself at you. So I plugged my charger into her phone and… if you know what I mean.

On the lower bunk afterwards, my Southern belle looked over at her phone to see there was a message from her friend and that she would now go to meet her. I said bye and expressed hope we would meet up again before I left Prague. She kissed me goodbye, but suddenly looked very concerned by what she’d done so quickly and hurried off. I didn’t see her again. It was 8pm.

Moving on from penthouse forum, it was time to find some dinner. I was tipped off about some particular Czech restaurant that apparently did great food – but as it was ages away I instead ended up walking around Old Town Square trying to find the cheapest option from there – which in this case was grudgingly, Italian. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian food, but in Italy it’s virtually impossible to eat anything else and I’d been getting sick of it. But with only an hour or so till one of my pre-intentioned highlights began, I took a seat and ordered what turned out to be a reasonable pizza. I’d been looking forward to The Crawl – one of Prague’s best known pub crawls. Its key draw for me was the promise of 90 minutes all you can drink vodka, absinthe, beer and wine at the start, all for the equivalent of 10 euro’s. Immensely curious to see how such a promise could be delivered, I left the restaurant as soon I was finished and went early to the assembly area next to the Orloj. Already people were gathering and I made small talk with a few South American guys then some Canadian girls – who I would later fall in with for most of the night. There were quite a lot of people already – 100 or so, and I started to worry that my all you can drink demands would not be satisfied. And here I’d been all worried that there wouldn’t be enough company in the off season. All of a sudden my heart dropped for exactly the opposite reason. A huge mass of some 300+ people had just come round the corner. But the event organisers soon loudly spoke up, assuring us we were now heading to the first venue for all you could drink. Making sure to stay at the front of a mostly North American mob, the first venue wasn’t far away and revealed itself instantly to be capable of delivering.

The first stop was a large bar servicing our pub crawl exclusively. It was also thoroughly prepared to deliver on the 90 minutes of all you can drink. As soon as we entered there were 100s of drinks already laid out and ready to down. Grabbing a table with the Canadians, we all proceeded to get totally fucked up. Every few minutes, bar girls would come round with trays of beer, wine and shots, and no matter how many we took from them there was always another girl with another tray right behind her. This was alcoholic catering at its absolute finest. We soon had so many plastic shot glasses at our table that we were able to make an immense pyramid from them. But I was getting wasted on turbo drive. It’s hard to think of anything particularly unpredictable that happened over the next couple of hours. Everyone got increasingly drunk and the conservations increasingly twisted.  We left to go to the next bar, got our complimentary drinks and I jumped around from set of people to the next, crashing conversations and generally acting like an idiot. Fortunately I seemed to be blending in. I did have quite a livid conversation with two Czech girls as I was ecstatic to finally have met some local talent, but no sooner did this seem to be going somewhere than our group was leaving again. We’d been at this place for 2 hours but it’d felt like 15 minutes. The next stop was an underground club which was exclusively blasting old school music, which always sounds 100x better when you’re totally out of it. I ended up hooking with the both of the Canadian girls but their more sober, conservative friends quickly convinced them it was time to go home.

I should have gone home myself at this point. I was reaching that point of gradual un-inebriation where one becomes ultra lethargic and in the mood to do absolutely nothing. None-the-less I decided to join those remaining to check out the last club on the crawl, enjoying along the way a conversation with a skinny, thuggish looking fellow whose east London accent bordered on the ridiculous. He’d been going crazy with indecision over whether or not to pay a visit to a place called Big Sister. Enquiring as to what this was he gave me an explicit explanation which I shall condense: Big Sister is a phenomenon unique to Prague – a Brothel with a twist where you bang the hookers for free. The twist is that the whole thing is filmed in high definition by a dozen spy cameras and the footage is then distributed across a range of pornographic media, mostly online. Hmmm, You could always grow a massive beard and wear a convincing wig, I suggested thoughtfully. This seemed to tip the argument, as he and his mate enthusiastically began discussing future travel plans.

At our final club stop I left almost immediately as I was absolutely exhausted. On another night the club would have been awesome but I think I’d had enough awesome for one day. The Hostel wasn’t too far away and after stumbling into the now fully occupied bunkroom, I knocked off instantaneously.

Saturday morning I was half awoken by the sounds of my anonymous roommates getting up early to make the most of their day. I on the other hand opted to roll over and go back to sleep for a few more hours  – under the justification that I hadn’t figured out what exactly I wanted to do. But when I did finally get up around 11:30, I was still gripped with indecision about how to spend my last day. After totting up several options I showered, dressed and decided to do the Prague Castle Tour (through the same company as the walking tour), but as that didn’t start till 2pm, the Medieval Torture Museum seemed like a good way to kill some time. However as I passed through the Old Town Square, everything had changed from yesterday. It turned out that today was the first day of the Christmas Markets, and stalls had sprung everywhere selling all manner of charming Christmassy things. I had of course noticed a large number of halfway setup operations the previous day but hadn’t given them a second thought until now.

With a cocktail of delicious smells emanating from this makeshift village, I had to take a closer look. Most of the stalls were selling local sweet season snacks, gingerbread, candies and local cinnamon and sugar pastries, whose Czech names were too complicated for me to recall.  I grabbed a couple of sweets, browsed through a few random souvenirs and then continued on my way to the Torture Museum, which turned out to be further away than I thought. Though the location was clearly marked down on an advertising flyer, the truth was I couldn’t find it, and more so, that I was pretty much out of time if I wished to still make Castle tour. Slightly disappointed, I grabbed a subway sandwich and backtracked to the meeting point at the Town Square.

Weird torture shit off tour

The tour meeting point was shared by about a dozen or so tour types so it was naturally crowded, I also seemed to have arrived early.  It was mostly much older people, but after loitering around a few minutes, a stunning dark haired Slavic girl arrived. Bored and with nothing else to do for the time being, I said Hi and from there we couldn’t stop talking. She was Polish and had recently moved to Prague for university, she was also on the same Castle Tour. When the tour finally commenced with our Scottish guide, we all took a tram up to the Castle and much like the day before, walked from area to area, seeing the sights with a fascinating commentary for everything. This included excellent views of the whole city, the epicentre of the Thirty Years Wars’ origins, Saint Vitus Cathedral, the Presidents quarters, a few historic pubs and towards the end of the tour when it had gotten dark  –  a great hot chocolate (like liquefied chocolate pudding but much, much richer). In the lulls between moving from one area to the next, me and Maria talked on about a million things and even side walked off a few times to discover a few things which weren’t part of our tour, including an old gibbeting, torture frame – which was hanging casually down a dark left turn. Maria, as it was, had a boyfriend – but she was such great company that this revelation hardly bothered me at all. By the time our tour concluded at around 6:30, I was incredibly hungry and Maria suggested we go and meet some of her friends at a restaurant for dinner.

Team Poland/NZ

By now it was incredibly cold, on the way to the – of all places – Italian Restaurant, we grabbed some cups of mulled wine from a street vendor and met up with Marias 8 or so friends. They were all various European expats – Dutch, French, Portuguese, Moldavian etc – and to my ease, just as friendly as her. After a surprisingly good Cabonara the French guy suggested we all move off to a local French pub to watch – to my delight and sudden recollection – the live All Blacks verses The French rugby game. At this point Maria unfortunately had to go home. I said my goodbyes and was a bit sad; it was as if though I’d known her much longer than a mere half day. This is why I love travelling solo – you never know you’ll meet where you’ll end up and who you’ll make friends with.  As I was leaving Prague very early the next morning, I knew I wouldn’t see her again for a long while, if ever again.  But everyone else came along to watch the game at the pub, which was full of French people. I was the only Kiwi. We ordered beers and I got to know the other guys and girls better, but as the All Blacks proceeded to soar ahead on points and systematically annihilate the French 39 – 12, it was only me in the whole bar that was yelling excitedly at the TV. When we left the bar at midnight – again it was such that I’d made a bunch of new friends only to sadly lose them all within hours. I had a plane to catch at 6am so I did my round of goodbye handshakes and cheek kisses, but when I was on the last Dutch girl, she instead just went straight for my lips in front of everybody. It felt like a fitting end to my experiences in Prague. Once I was back at the Hostel, I managed to pull off a few hours sleep before getting up at the ungodly hour of 4am and rueing that I didn’t have at least another day in this incredible city.

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